Why is My Car Shaking? Top 7 Causes You Can't Ignore

Shaking is great for martinis, but not so much for cars.

When cars shake, it oftentimes begins subtly and then continues to get worse. At first, you might not notice it or you might think you can ignore it, but that’s a risky approach; if you don’t know what is causing the problem, you don’t know how much additional damage is being done by letting it go.

There’s a pretty lengthy list of reasons your car might be shaking, so let’s look at seven common reasons this might be happening:

No. 1: There’s a tire problem

Tires play a significant role in how well your car rides and handles. When there’s a problem with your tires, it’s going to affect the entire ride. When it comes to a shaking vehicle, there could be a few different things going on with your tires.

First, your tires may not be properly balanced. If that’s the case, they’re not going to run on the road evenly and that can cause your car to shake. If ignored, the shaking will get worse and it can begin to affect other tires as well as your vehicle’s alignment.

A loose tire can also be the culprit; check to make sure that the lugs are properly tightened on every tire. If the lugs are tight but the tire is still loose, it could signal an issue with the wheel bearings, and that is something you need to take care of immediately. Another possibility is that you hit something, such as a curb or pothole, and that has created a problem with the tire itself or has resulted in a bent rim. Your car also might shake if you have a separated tread.

Whichever case it may be, if your tires are causing the issue you need to get them checked and, when necessary, replaced before they cause further problems or an accident.

No. 2: The brakes need repaired

If your car only shakes when you hit the brakes, that’s a pretty good indicator that you need to have your brakes looked at. Chances are good that you have a warped brake rotor, which can be caused by the normal wear and tear of driving. The rotor sits inside the wheel and the brake pads press against it every time they have to slow or stop your vehicle, so it gets a lot of use. As the surface wears down and it’s no longer even, it makes for a shaky ride each time you hit the brakes.

Another brake-related reason your car might be shaking could be a stuck caliper. The caliper houses the brake pads that press against the rotor, and if they get stuck, it can cause the car to vibrate when it reaches a certain speed — typically around 40 or 50 mph. Although not as common, this does happen, and the shaking increases as you drive faster.

One hint that this might be the cause is that it smells like burning tires when you stop the car or you might even see smoke when you’re driving. If that happens, pull over and stop the car immediately, as it could be damaging the brake’s discs.

No. 3: Your plugs have lost their spark

If your car starts shaking and jerking when you press down on the accelerator, or if starts to feel like you’re driving over a rumble strip when you hit certain speeds, it could be time to check the spark plugs. Spark plugs make a big difference in how smoothly your car operates, and if your engine isn’t getting a sufficient amount of spark, you’re going to feel it.

Even if the spark plugs themselves aren’t the problem, have the spark plug wires checked to see if they’re properly connected or if they need replacing.

No. 4: Your suspension system needs some TLC

If the shaking is primarily concentrated in the steering wheel, direct your attention to the suspension system. This isn’t something to take a “wait and see” approach on, as it could lead to a serious problem. Among the possible sources of the problem are the tie rods, shock absorbers, struts, bearings and ball joints.

Don't delay in having this looked at, as it is going to require professional attention.

No. 5: Worn or bent parts

The brake rotor isn’t the only part that can wear out and cause your vehicle to shake. And, if you’ve been in an accident, your car could have a bent axle that makes your vehicle vibrate as you drive.

A bent driveshaft and worn-out CV, or constant velocity, joints also could lead to making your car shake when you’re driving.

No. 6: Low transmission fluid

If the level of transmission fluid dips too low in your car, it might start shaking as you accelerate. While this is fairly easy to resolve, it needs to be tended to promptly. If there’s a leak and you continue driving with too little transmission fluid, it can permanently damage your car’s transmission. That can lead to costly repairs, rebuilds or even replacements, depending on the extent of the damage.

If the car makes a loud noise when it shakes, it could be a sign that the transmission or the drive train could be wearing out.

No. 7: Worn motor mounts

If your car is shaking when you’re idling, it probably has worn or broken motor mounts. When this happens, it allows your engine to move around under the hood. This one is easy to diagnose with a quick look under the hood, and you can get this repaired fairly quickly and easily.

There are many other reasons why your car might start shaking, but these are some of the more common issues. Regardless of what is causing your car to shake, it’s important not to ignore it and have it looked at as quickly as possible. While it might be a minor issue, leaving it unchecked can lead to bigger problems and costly repairs down the road. Rainbow Muffler & Brake has six Cleveland-area auto repair shops and would love to ensure you’re as safe as possible on the road. 

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